Wastewater Testing of Campus Residence Leads to Early Disease Detection

An asymptomatic case of COVID-19 in the University of Windsor’s Alumni Hall residence was confirmed by the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit today following widespread testing of students Sunday morning. The move came after daily wastewater screening from the building tested positive for the virus Saturday evening.

The testing of wastewater for COVID-19 is part of a project led by Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research (GLIER) executive director Mike McKay. The team has been collecting and testing wastewater samples from across the region and in other areas of Ontario since the beginning of the pandemic, and is now part of a broader network of labs monitoring sewage for early virus detection. The Provincial government recently announced a $12 million investment to support and expand the network.

“Wastewater testing is a very proactive way to identify the presence of COVID-19 in a building’s residents and gives us a chance to interrupt further spread of the disease or a potential outbreak,” Dr. McKay said.

Once alerted to Saturday’s wastewater results, the University immediately enacted its COVID-19 protections and protocols.

Working in collaboration with the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit, over 160 on-site tests were administered Sunday, with only a single case showing a positive result.  Additional tests are expected to take place today and are available to students and staff with assigned duties at Alumni Hall.

“We know wastewater monitoring makes a significant difference in helping keep the community safe,” said Faculty of Science dean Chris Houser and Chair of the Return to Campus Action Group.

“It’s gratifying to know that our own students and staff, right here on campus, are reaping the benefits of Dr. McKay’s research.”

The individual who tested positive for COVID-19 has been relocated to the University’s isolation centre and is receiving support from the Health Unit, Student Health Services, and Residence Services.

Alumni Hall residents are still under “modified quarantine” which means they are asked to avoid close contact with others and the community, limit contact outside their residence to essential trips, and continue to follow other public health measures until at least April 2.

The University will continue to work closely with the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit to further support Alumni Hall residents.